Posts Tagged ‘Scrum’

Agile

Whilst Agile frameworks such as Scrum and Kanban are a great way of taking steps towards becoming more Agile, it’s important to remember amongst their own principles and guidelines, that the ultimate objective is to deliver customer value/the product vision in an efficient and competitive way.

To help avoid losing sight of this objective and falling into the trap of obsessing about the intricate details of the frameworks too much, it’s important that gap analysis is done frequently on the actual Agile manifesto and principles themselves to see how you can shape the Agile framework to achieve agility and the real benefits of being Agile.

The 4 Agile Values/Manifesto

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

The 12 Agile Principles

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

How Spotify have adopted Agile

Velocity

Velocity = Projected amount of story points which a team can burn over a set period

A development team’s velocity using Scrum or Kanban can be worked out by totalling up the amount of points which has been burned across 3-5 sprints/set periods and then dividing it by the periods the totals were calculated over (taking an average across the periods).

It’s important to use an average across the last 3-5 periods, so then holiday seasons and a sprint where items have moved over to the following sprint doesn’t dramatically impact the numbers as much as it would if you only looked at the last period.

A team can use their velocity in many ways, for example:

  • Understanding how many points they can commit to during sprint planning/work out how many PBIs (Product Backlog Items) could be done across the next 2 weeks
  • To aid prioritisation (The ‘I’ in ROI)
  • Predicting when software can be delivered in the backlog, which can then be used to forecast future feature delivery
  • Understanding the impact on any resources eg. Scrum team member changes or adding extra teams to the product
  • Understanding the impact which dependencies are having which can be reviewed in the retro, great example being build pipelines
  • Providing a more accurate estimate than a t-shirt size
  • As a KPI for efficiency improvements

I tend to refer to points being ‘burned’ rather than ‘delivered’ because it’s quite easy to fall into the velocity/story point delivery trap of obsessing about points being delivered rather than obsessing about delivering outcomes (business value).

Devops

Development effort isn’t cheap, but extremely valuable no matter what industry you work in, so once a product iteration is ready to ship, automating the final steps including the software build, deployment, environment and release process will help continuously deliver customer value in an efficient way without unnecessary delays or bottlenecks.

DevOps is the combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools that increases an organisation’s ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity: evolving and improving products at a faster pace than organizations using traditional software development and infrastructure management processes. This speed enables organisations to better serve their customers and compete more effectively in the market.” – AWS

There’s often a significant amount of thought and effort which goes into getting an idea into development, so when the code (solution) is ready to kick off the build (ship) process, it’s important that this is as automated as possible to avoid unnecessary delays with customers getting hold of the feature within a timely fashion.

Due to the rise of the DevOps culture, it’s now possible to automate the whole build, deployment and release process. As well as customers getting features sooner as mentioned above, other benefits of adopting a DevOps culture includes:

  • Software Development division remaining competitive
  • Reduction in waste from having to wait for software to build, deploy, dealing with environment issues and working with the operation team to handle the release
  • Increasing the R in ROI (Return on Investment) as less waste results in delivering more value to customers
  • Improving team morale – dealing with environmental, build and release issues manually isn’t fun
  • Improving on sprint goal complete rates as it’s less likely stories will drag over to multiple sprints because of build / release issues
  • Decreasing lapsed time of development work
  • Improved security
  • Easier to track build to release timeframe
  • Automated
  • Scalable

Adopting a DevOps culture should ideally come from bottom up rather than top down – a Product Owner shouldn’t need to create stories, sell in the importance of it to dev teams or prioritise it, as optimising the software build and release process should be BAU (Business as Usual) and should always be constantly looked at and improved.

As development teams adopt a DevOps culture and they start migrating over to a fully automated process, the benefits will be obvious and lucrative.

Less

LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) is an agile framework for 3-8 Scrum teams, but when there’s more than 8 Scrum teams it’s time to think about adopting LeSS Huge. So let’s look at the differences.

LeSS
LeSS is a scaled up version of one-team Scrum, and it maintains many of the practices and ideas of one-team Scrum. In LeSS, you will find:

In LeSS all Teams are in a common sprint to deliver a common shippable product, every sprint.

LeSS Huge

Less-huge

What’s the same as the smaller LeSS Framework:

  • One (overall) Product Backlog
  • One Definition of Done
  • One Definition of Ready
  • One (overall) Product Owner
  • One Sprint

So what’s Different?

  • Area Product Owners
  • Area Product Backlogs
  • Area Product Vision
  • Set of parallel meetings per Area

It’s important to remember that these frameworks are just guides and every business has their own org structure, so it’s completely acceptable to mould a framework to suit the organisational structure and industry sector.

Capacity

If a product is to be sustainable, tech fit, compliant and competitive it needs to have a short and long term development capacity strategy which will help to ultimately deliver the product vision.

Not having enough capacity could mean spending months / years only focusing on upgrading software versions / maintaining legacy technology or meeting regulatory requirements – not making any significant progress on getting after the product vision or surpassing competitors, having too much resource could mean that another product in the business could deliver a higher return with that resource instead, but having the right amout of capacity is important.

The product having the right amount of capacity should mean it’s possible to get after low hanging fruit, maintaining current tech whilst also concurrently getting after the next generation technology (product vision), meeting security / compliance requirements and having resource to experiment.

Understanding what the right amount of capacity should be isn’t easy, but a capacity planner will be able to help. A capacity planner should ideally be driven by points and velocity, so that no matter where the feature is on the feature pipeline (received a high level t-shirt size or has been broken down into stories) it’s possible to easily update the capacity planner with a more accurate estimate as the feature goes into development.

The data you’d typically need to lay out in a spreadsheet in order to effectively capacity plan includes:

  • Date (by month)
  • Team velocity – ‘Points to Allocate to Features’ (which already takes into account average sickness, holidays, ceremonies, breaks, training etc)
  • Forecast of future velocity based on an increase / decrease in capacity eg. Are you planning on adding another team to the product in 4 months time?
  • List of features
  • Estimates (in story points) against each feature
  • Priority order of features
  • ‘Points Remaining’ which is calculated as you start filling up the spreadsheet

It’s totally possible to roughly estimate future features by dev sprints, team sprints or man days instead of points as long as you convert it back to points after knowing how many points a whole team burns each sprint (velocity).

Another reason why it’s essential to have a capacity planner is that based on when features start and finish on the plan will drive the product roadmap dates making the roadmap data driven.

Having a capacity planner available is also a handy report when demonstrating to stakeholders that when features are in the correct priority order and once capacity has run out for a given month, then there’s no more room to slip in anymore work and it’s a case of being patient or changing priority / increasing capacity.

Basics

As a product scales there would often be an increase in capacity / scrum teams working on that product, enabling multiple features to be worked on concurrently, which would be a sensible time to review whether it’s time to adopt the LeSS (Large Scaled Scrum) framework.

As there are some additional elements involved in LeSS vs. Scrum including:

  • All of the Scrum teams work as one team, from one product backlog and with one Product Owner to deliver common goals
  • Having a joint sprint planning with members of each scrum team to decide on what product backlog items (PBIs) to commit to delivering in the next sprint
  • Overall Backlog Grooming (OBG) where members of each scrum team decide on what PBIs to assign to what teams, so they know what features to groom and get in a ready state for an upcoming sprint
  • Overall Retrospective where members of each team discuss highlights from their individual team retrospectives with the aim to learn and improve on how the whole team operates

It’s important to ensure that the Scrum teams have mastered the key elements of Scrum before considering using the LeSS framework, so before moving over to LeSS, see how you’re doing against the below questions:

  1. Are the teams using velocity to measure whether process changes they make are improving their productivity or hurting it?
  2. Are fast estimation sessions happening frequently so that the product backlog has rough estimates?
  3. Is it easy to predict when software will be delivered for the current and future projects based on the backlog being sized?
  4. Are sprint burndown charts monitored every day?
  5. Is analytics part of the definition of done?
  6. Is there a strong DevOps culture in all of the teams?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these then perhaps it’s a bit too early to adopt LeSS.

Pipeline

With a long list of ideas / problems (features) to solve, there needs to be a solid view of exactly where features are in the idea to customer flow, so that anyone can view the status of a feature anytime without constantly asking.

Having a ‘feature pipeline’ report also proves helpful when providing stakeholder monthly / quarterly product updates.

A feature pipeline typically has multiple columns similar to a Kanban view, but it’s important to keep the content at a high- level (feature / epic) rather than stories.

Pipeline

Example Feature Pipeline Format

Some of the columns you’d have on a Feature Pipeline would be:

  1. ‘Idea’: which would be a long list of features sorted by value
  2. To Be T-Shirt Sized‘ (WIP 5): top 5 highest value features move over to a sizing column – in order for the idea to be prioritised on the product roadmap you need a rough size. It’s recommended to have a WIP (work in progress) limit
  3. Capacity Planning‘: once the feature has been roughly sized, it’s then possible to analyse when the feature can be worked on based on capacity and priority (value vs. effort (t-shirt size))
  4. Delivery Quarter‘: based on the capacity planner which should drive the start and end dates of features on the product roadmap, what quarter does the feature planned to be delivered in

There are plenty of tools available to visualise your feature pipeline eg. Aha! and JIRA and it’s a good idea to compliment that with a guide which includes SLAs for each stage of the pipeline and a t-shirt size mapping, so it’s clear what a ‘Small’ or ‘Large’ is for example.

Having a Feature Pipeline in your product toolkit for everyone to access when they want will help ensure that high priority ideas get to customers in a timely and transparent way.

Goals

No matter what product a development team works on, there will often be a big backlog full of high priority customer-centric / commercial work to deliver, technical improvements to make, bug fixing, getting after the next generation technology and security / regulatory / compliance work, so it’s important that there’s clarity over what the specific headline goals are for the development team to achieve over the next sprint / time period.

Some key points when setting goals:

  • They should be specific, but also be accompanied by a high level summary of the bigger picture
  • They should all be action-orientated
  • Make sure your goals are measurable so you know if they’re done or not at the end of the period
  • Indicate a period they’re valid for until they’re reviewed
  • Share the goals with stakeholders and senior management, as well as the review of whether the goals were ‘done’ or ‘moved over to the next period’
  • They should be realistic and the development team should agree to the goals

Setting frequent delivery goals is not only important so that the right focus is being spent on the right things which will increase the likelihood of making progress on solving the highest priority problems, but it also gives visibility of the overall progress made on product iterations and highlights problems in the process if goals are frequently not met, whether it’s due to build pipeline / environment issues or last minute dependencies for example, which should be discussed in the retrospective.

Setting delivery goals, reviewing, celebrating and learning from them should be the norm like it is when everyone’s objectives are set across the wider business.

CSPO

Whether you’re a product led organisation or keen to take product ownership to the next level, a good way to ensure that Product Owners are well equiped to effectively handle their product in an agile environment is through various Product Owner Certifications.

The first level of certification is becoming a Certified Scrum Product Owner, where the course is typically over a two day period with modules including:

  • Introductions to Agile and Scrum
  • Agile Basics
  • Scrum Basics
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Team Chartering (Ready, ‘Done’ and Team agreements)
  • Product Visions
  • Product Roadmaps
  • User Stories
  • The Product Backlog and Product Backlog Refinement
  • Agile Estimating and Planning
  • Sprints
  • Participant-Driven Q&A

Acspo

Once you’ve become a Certified Scrum Product Owner and you want to take product ownership to the next level then attend the Advanced Certified Scrum Product Owner® course which includes:

  • Product Backlog Prioritisation & Refinement
  • User Stories
  • Rapid Vision Generation
  • Roadmapping That Works
  • Value Proposition Design
  • Hypothesis Testing
  • Use Cases
  • Getting to Done
  • In-person Collaboration
  • On-line Collaboration with Weave
  • Understanding Yourself as a Product Owner
  • Lift-off for Agile Teams
  • Scaling Scrum and other Agile processes
  • Extreme Programming
  • Facilitative Listening I & II
  • Inclusive Solutions

Csppo

The final step is becoming a Certified Scrum Professional Product Owner. Certified Scrum Professionals challenge their teams to improve the way Scrum and other Agile techniques are applied. They have demonstrated experience, documented training, and proven knowledge in the art of Scrum.

Are you ready for the next level of experience and expertise in the art of Scrum? If so, it’s time to elevate your career further by earning the CSP®credential.

Scale

Once a product is mature and the product roadmap is filled up with valuable product iterations, it’s likely that the product owner and senior management will be keen to find out how some of the financial value driving product iterations can be delivered sooner.

Whilst having to balance technology improvements, technical debt, regulatory, security, bugs, dev ops and business requirements with only having one development team on the product stream would make this difficult, as there’s little room to work on multiple different types of work concurrently eg. business requirements concurrently with the more technical driven requirements.

To work on different sets of requirements concurrently, the product would need to scale which would involve adding additional product development teams to the product line. With more development teams working on the product would also require additional firepower from the technical architect and product owner role if delivery is to remain efficient and ROI positive.

An example of how you can scale the product owner role across multiple development teams who are working on the same product line:

Chief Product Owner (CPO)

  • Responsible for ensuring that the Product Owners are handling their product lines effectively
  • Handling the high level product strategy across all product lines

Product Owner (PO) / Senior Product Owner (SPO) of the Product Line

  • Market analysis
  • Competitor analysis
  • Customer analysis
  • Trends
  • Product line strategy
  • Product Vision
  • Product Roadmap
  • Backlog prioritisation
  • Epic / feature scoping
  • Backlog grooming
  • Sprint planning

Product Owner of the Development Teams (Associate Product Owner (APO))

  • Customer analysis
  • Epic breakdown
  • Requirement workshops
  • User story definition
  • Detailed acceptance criteria
  • Backlog grooming
  • Sprint planning
  • Acceptance of user stories
  • Retrospectives
  • Daily stand-up

The Associate Product Owner of the development teams could also be referred to as Feature Product Owner, Junior Product Owner, Product Executive or Business Analyst.

In order for the Product Owner to be able to focus on the product vision, prioritisation of the product backlog and product strategy to ensure the product remains competitive, it’s important that when adding additional development teams to the product that they get additional product owner support to help them out with the more tactical day to day activities, as you can see from the split in tasks above – Product Line Owner handling more strategic tasks especially prioritisation in all instances and the Associate Product Owner handles more tactical tasks.

Spreading a product owner too thin with little support could result in a lack of focus on both product strategy and getting product backlog items delivered in an efficient way.

Ops

All products will have an element of BAU (business as usual) and strategic work, where both are equally important to get after if the product is to remain competitive now and in years to come.

BAU work can also be referred to as ops (operational) work and I’ve always preferred the word ‘Ops’ over ‘BAU’ because no problem to solve should be looked at as solving it in the usual way which BAU can often be treated like. Also there’s often a stigma attached to BAU irrelevant of the business value it drives which is bonkers, so let’s look at the definitions of both:

  • BAU – work which doesn’t involve significant architecture redesign or thought, but BAU work is typically the blood line of the business
  • Strategic – work which involves a significant amount of up front technical design and often uses the latest / next generation technology. Strategic work often comes into play if there’s an architectural org restructure, the existing technical platform is no longer fit for purpose or it’s a new product

When it comes to delivering either BAU or Strategic work, there’s a couple of ways:

  1. Simply follow the same agile process which any other problem does, which includes adding a high level PBI (Product Backlog Item) detailing the problem to solve with value and then the Scrum Master / Team Lead looks well ahead in the product backlog to start contemplating approaching the ‘how’ with very close collaboration with the Technical Architect (TA) with the aim to get the item in a ‘Ready‘ state for development. This would in turn lead to the development teams planning in Technical Support backlog items to help the TA with technical designs, spikes or investigations well in advance of the problem appearing towards the top of the backlog which applies to both Scrum and Kanban.
  2. Split development resource into BAU only and Strategic only

The risk with No 1 is that the Scrum Master doesn’t collaborate with the Technical Architect soon enough resulting in the PBI hitting the top of the backlog before technical designs have started, causing significant delays to getting after the strategic work.

But there’s a much bigger risk to No 2 where there would naturally be a big reluctance for a team to work purely on BAU and therefore miss out on any green field project and there’s risk of breaking the ‘One Team’ mentality across the product development teams working on the whole product together and in turn impacting team morale.

With facilitating processes and tasks at the heart of the Scrum Master role, it requires someone with a proactive, helpful, motivated, can do, kind, organised and supportive mindset in order for requirements to be solved in an efficient way in the right priority order.

With the Product Owner, Developers, QAs, Technical Architect and Stakeholders all focused on getting their job done where there are clear boundaries, it needs someone to fill any missing gaps or connect them together in order to get the job done, which is where the Scrum Master comes in.

Let’s look at a day in the life of a Scrum Master:

Scrum master

Done

Once the product backlog is in a good quality condition and the product backlog items (PBIs) start moving into development, there’s a significant amount of tasks to tick off before the feature can be marked as ‘done’ and therefore ready to ship.

Typically a development team would use a ‘definition of done’ (DoD) as a reference to ensure that none of the processes get missed off before it’s ‘done’, as each of those processes are essential and could have considerable consequences for the business and customers if it’s not done.

Some examples of what could be in a definition of done:

  • Code is reviewed by someone who didn’t do the PBI
  • Code is deployed to test environment
  • Feature is tested against acceptance criteria
  • Feature passes regression testing
  • Feature passes smoke test
  • Feature is documented
  • Feature has analytics tracking
  • Feature approved by UX designer / stakeholder
  • Feature approved by Product Owner

Missing any of the DoD processes before a feature gets delivered to a customer could result in critical bugs across the feature, causing bugs across other features in the code, bring down the product or delivering the wrong requirement, so it’s essential to take the definition of done seriously even if it means taking the PBI over to the next sprint resulting in potentially not meeting a sprint goal.

Invest

In order to avoid lots of panic and chaos the day before sprint planning because there’s no work in a ‘ready‘ state, it’s essential to have regular backlog grooming sessions which would result in having at least six weeks’ worth of high priority ‘ready’ work in the product backlog.

To get PBI’s (Product Backlog Items) in a ready state, it can take a lot of effort especially when it comes to chasing down dependencies or getting answers around the business requirements, but this is where the Scrum Master comes in to help out – although the Product Owner owns the product backlog, it’s the responsibility of the Scrum Master to help, guide and support the team to ensure they’re having frequent effective backlog grooming sessions, so there’s a good few weeks worth of ready PBI’s.

A new PBI is the start of a conversation and shouldn’t include solutions, so there should be ongoing questions around the requirements well in advance of the work going into development, until the development team feel they have enough information to size the PBI and then mark it as ready if there’s no dependencies.

It’s important to have a good quality product backlog (high priority items in a ready state) and frequently groom PBIs, to ensure the development teams are not only working on the highest priority items, but also that they’re working in an efficient way.

Some tips to getting a good quality product backlog:

  1. Create the user stories and prioritise in the backlog sooner rather than later – as a minimum the story needs to include ‘as a’, ‘I want’, ‘so that’ language with some high level acceptance criteria which will help start the conversation with the developers, giving them weeks to ask questions up front before it appears towards the top of the backlog.
  2. Making the problem / requirements clear with a stakeholder point of contact within the story for reference
  3. Having a clear title (summary) to the story, so you don’t have to open it up to find out what it’s about
  4. When there are questions from the developers to answer either by the Sub Product Owner (or Product Owner), stakeholders or technical, try to avoid leaving these unanswered for days – these should be responded to immediately as a priority
  5. For the ‘Feature Backlog‘ to be presented to the team monthly or bi-monthly, so they know clearly what the value of the relevant PBI’s are with some context around them
  6. Having flexible backlog grooming sessions – there’s no rule here, the teams can get together everyday if they like to groom the backlog until they’ve caught up
  7. Reinforcing to the development teams that they don’t need to know exactly what code to write and where in order to size the PBI, but instead the sizing should be based on a suitable solution making some assumptions
  8. Attaching customer flows / UX to the PBIs, with a link to ‘As Is’ and ‘To Be’ documentation

At least 10% of the teams time should be spent on grooming the product backlog and unless enough time is invested or they don’t get the support they need from the Scrum Master or Product Owner, then there’s risk of inefficiencies or the teams working on low priority PBI’s (Product Backlog Items) as the high priority items aren’t being groomed enough in time for sprint planning.

To compliment the Product Roadmap, there should be a prioritised product ‘Feature Backlog’ which gives both stakeholders and the development teams a detailed overview of the Product Roadmap items still at that high level (Epics / Product Iterations).

If you use JIRA to manage your software delivery projects and you have your product roadmap items at an Epic level, then you’re able to simply setup a Kanban board with just one column called ‘Feature Backlog’ with a filter set to show only Epics and Epics which are ‘in progress’ or ‘to do’.

To visualise the feature backlog in a better way than the Kanban board, it’s possible to also show that same JIRA epic search filter across the likes of Confluence or Aha! where you can specify what JIRA fields to show.

Depending on your custom fields in JIRA, looking at the Feature Backlog should give stakeholders and development teams working on the product a high level (iteration / epic) idea of:

  • Priority order of all epics / iterations
  • Status – what’s in progress, planned or to do
  • Business value – whether it’s driving x incremental revenue, saving x money, avoiding x fees, meeting regulatory requirements, contract deadlines, tech debt, advancing technology etc
  • Description of the iteration / problem you’re solving
  • Delivery date which should match the dates on the product roadmap
  • Size of work

The Feature Backlog is a great way of showcasing at a high level the value of the product iterations which are currently being worked on and what’s planned in the next twelve months.

The Feature Backlog also helps the development teams understand the details of what problems are upcoming to solve, so they’re able to think about how to approach each epic / product iteration well in advance.

ScrumCards

A self-organised development team working together successfully to achieve common goals within the sprint boundary (typically every two weeks) is only possible if the teams ceremonies are done which includes:

  1. Daily stand-up – the scrum team need to meetup daily on time to discuss what they did yesterday, what they’re planning to do today, highlight any dependencies, issues or help they might need
  2. Updating the scrum board daily – whether the source of truth is the physical board or a digital version eg. JIRA, the scrum board needs to reflect the current state of play with regards to the sprint progress, so the team can understand how they’re progressing with their sprint commitments and sprint goals
  3. Regular backlog grooming sessions – in order for the development team to be able to work on the highest priority PBIs (Product Backlog Items) in the next sprint, they need to ensure they meet up regularly in order to get at least the next three sprints highest priority backlog items in a ‘ready‘ state
  4. Roughly sizing the backlog – in order to predict when customers will receive tweaks to the product, it’s important that the product backlog is roughly sized to aid delivery ETAs, but also prioritisation
  5. Retrospectives – meeting up once a sprint to discuss what could have gone better in the last sprint, what went well and what to continue doing. The format is flexible and the most important thing to do at the start of any retrospective is to focus on actions front the last retrospective – unless actions are done (the team learns), retrospectives are pointless, so it’s absolutely crucial that the things which the teams are keen to change / improve on is actioned or tried at least.
  6. Sprint review – showcasing what awesome iterations the team has been working on to get feedback and a round of applause from stakeholders

In order for the scrum team to be able to fulfill their commitments they should be getting significant help, guidance and support from the Scrum Master or Team Lead, Product Owner and the Development Manager and only once the above points (basics) are being done well, can a team start to seriously look to improve their velocity and scale successfully.

Agile

There are two main definitions of ‘Agile’ which people tend to refer to when:

  1. Delivering software iteratively and in increments rather than holding all of the software back delivering one big release somewhere down the line
  2. The business responds to change / demands rather than sticking to a long term strategy just because it was previously agreed

Both definitions of the term are valid, but in software development the first use is most common whereas everyone else in a business typically refer to the second.

Scrum is the most common Agile framework where typically the expectation is that you release code / software to live every fortnight / within the Sprint whether it uses a feature switch or setting the code live to customers. This has many benefits such as:

  1. Realising value sooner – value being delivered within the sprint off the back of the development work the team committed to during sprint planning
  2. Predictability of future software releases
  3. General team organisation – all work in the sprint will be fully done so you won’t have to deal with the previous sprints pre-production testing or release in the following fresh sprint, making it less messy and reducing the impact of context switching (Dev Ops culture – continuous delivery)
  4. Responding to customer feedback quicker adjusting scope for future iterations off the back of it
  5. Large chunks of development work won’t be sitting on the shelf collecting dust or thrown away without any customer / end user receiving any of the goods
  6. Ability to deliver the highest ROI pieces of work, so rather than having to wait until a feature is gold plated, you may find after the 3rd iteration that the majority of value has been delivered, therefore it might be higher priority to start work on another feature than fully completing the existing one
  7. Self organising, cross functional teams including UX and design

Only once you’ve ticked off all of the above can you say that you develop software in an Agile way.

The business use of the term Agile is more focused on the ability to adapt to change quickly and shuffle around priorities to meet changing core objectives within a reasonable time frame, rather than continuing to work on something which will generate half the ROI than another feature or a feature which is no longer needed. Naturally you need to include any context switching cost when changing in flight priorities and it’s recommended not to change high level priorities frequently because you may find yourself delivering very little over time and instead just causing lots of admin and frustrated developers.

Being Agile is certainly not easy to achieve, but having the ambition and desire to start delivering value in an Agile way is something which is definitely worth any necessary process or infrastructure change in order for the benefits of Agile to be unlocked.

Scrum

Development teams should decide what agile development framework they adopt/try out using retrospectives to aid improvements and change.

The way teams operate is significantly different between Scrum and Kanban, but the fundamentals of business delivery stay the same eg. Prioritisation, frequency of delivering value to customers, agile software delivery and development team structure/support. So what are the differences:

Scrum

  • Scrum is one of the most popular ways to implement Agile. It is an iterative software model that follows a set of roles, responsibilities, and meetings that never change. Sprints, usually lasting one to two weeks, allow the team to deliver software on a regular basis.
  • Teams commit to delivering two weeks worth of work, but if the original plan changes by even adding work, removing work or changing work / stories within a sprint would mean the team fails in achieving the original sprint commitments / goal
  • If teams deliver what they commit to then they celebrate passing the sprint (which was the sprint goal) ie. a teams goal is to deliver on their sprint commitments, not to get the actual development / value live to customers
  • Set Scrum ceremonies such as daily stand ups, fortnightly sprint planning, fortnightly backlog grooming and a retrospective
  • Sizing user stories which can be a different size
  • Sprint burndown charts to measure progress
  • You have a team velocity to help set realistic future sprint goals and project feature ETAs
  • Normally there can be no dependencies when committing to work in a sprint so even more upfront planning / scheduling / grooming is needed

Kanban

  • Kanban, meaning “visual sign” or “card” in Japanese, is a visual framework to implement Agile. It promotes small, continuous changes to your current system. Its principles include: visualise the workflow, limit work in progress, manage and enhance the flow, make policies explicit, and continuously improve.
  • The goal is to move user stories / bugs through different stages of the development cycle with the goal to get the story from one side of the board to ‘live’ / ‘done’ ASAP
  • The stories high up in the backlog / coming next should be broken down so that each piece of work is roughly equally sized allowing you to gauge an average story cycle time and deliver value frequently
  • The team are typically not bound by time limits to getting work done and instead restrict WIP by dev status to ensure value gets delivered frequently to customers
  • Grooming, stand ups, planning and retrospectives are not mandatory but regular grooming, stand ups and retrospectives are recommended to ensure efficiency is at a good level
  • As there’s typically no fixed deadline on work getting done, teams can spend longer on thorough investigations into multiple solutions if needed. Also on the other end having a column on the Kanban board for demos, pre-production work and a column representing live is also possible allowing stories to be closed only when value starts getting delivered to customers
  • Because of the above, it makes the status of development work crystal clear rather than a sprint ending and you having to dig around to find out where it is and spend more effort / create additional release stories trying to get it live
  • The team lead and dev manager role is even more important to ensure the team are trained up, working efficiently and resourced to get the job done
  • As teams pick work from the top of the backlog adhoc, it’s likely a new highest priority item will be picked up sooner than if it was at the top of a Scrum board as you don’t have to wait two weeks until the sprint finishes before it’s in development

Both Scrum and Kanban have plenty of pros, cons and bring different challenges to the table, but give software engineers the autonomy to get through the backlog without sprint boundaries or artificial deadlines then you’ll likely see productivity, quality and communication increase, with the caveat that they must have strong support from the team lead, dev manager and PO who aren’t affraid to get stuck in.